The City of Oxford is primarily associated in most minds with its university. To those of us old enough to remember when British marques dominated motoring in this country, it was also inextricably linked to a make of car in a similar way that Ford was to Dagenham and Vauxhall was to Luton.
This Oxfordshire motoring giant started out on the road to success when its founder started mending bicycles in the shed of his parent’s house at 16 James Street. Born in Worcestershire he moved as a child to Oxford and upon leaving school at the age of 15, our future industrialist gained an apprenticeship with a local bicycle-seller and repairer. Nine months passed and with his employer refusing to raise his wages the 16 year old set up his own bicycle repair business behind his parents’ house.
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When it appeared that this business was a success the teenage businessman next opened a shop at 48 High Street Oxford where he began to assemble bicycles as well as continuing his repair service. This youthful entrepreneur was, of course, William Richard Morris, the founder of Morris Motors and who would rise to be a peer of the realm as the 1st Viscount Nuffield.
William Richard Morris (pictured right), 1st Viscount Nuffield, GBE, CH, FRS was born on the 10th October 1877 and lived until 22 August 1963. The founder of Morris Motors Limited and a philanthropist, he is also remembered as the founder of the Nuffield Foundation, the Nuffield Trust and Nuffield College, Oxford and Nuffield Health.
William Morris branded the bikes that he made with a gilt cycle wheel and the words ‘The Morris’ on them. As a keen proponent of cycling he would race his own machines in various competitions, some of which would see him go to compete as far away from his home as the south of London. He was also active in and around his hometown becoming, at one point, champion of Oxford (City and County), Berkshire and Buckinghamshire for distances varying between one and fifty miles.
By 1901 Morris expanded to work on motorcycles designing the Morris Motor Cycle. The next year he broadened his scope to also include repairing and hiring motor cars, operating a taxi service, as well as the bicycle repair business. This growth necessitated a move into premises in St Cross Street at the junction with Longwall Street, Oxford. When he took on the franchise for several makes of motor cars he needed even more space. By 1910 his landlords, Merton College, had built a new building on Longwell Street and this was leased to Morris as his business flourished. With this new base he adopted the name of ‘The Morris Garage’ and it was here in Longwall Street that in 1912 Morris designed and built the prototype of his famous Bullnose Morris. This first car of his was actually called the Morris Oxford when released but has become well known as the Bullnose.
What the Land Tax Records reveal
With the benefit of the Oxfordshire IR58 Lloyd George Domesday Survey records from a time between 1910 and 1915 and their very detailed IR126 large scale OS maps, available to search on TheGenealogist, we are able to see the rapid expansion of William Morris’s business in this window of time. Morris, we will notice when searching for him in these land tax records, leased a couple of buildings that were owned by Merton College. The map shows that the smaller of the two premises was just into St Cross Street, bordering Magdalen Grove and next to the ancient site of the gallows. It was recorded in the Valuation Office Survey as a ‘Garage, Stabling and yard etc.’ and had a gross value of just £15.
Across the road and down Longwall Street the newer building (described in the IR58 records as Motor Garages, office and showrooms) was larger and so this is reflected in its value at £80. We benefit from a more detailed description in this record as well as a rough plan of the layout sketched by the surveyor in the field book. While the building is located at the top of Longwall Street, at the corner where it makes a left hand bend into Holywell Street, it had been given the address of this latter street in the survey. Today, however, walking past the building the pedestrian will see that the street sign for Longwall Street abuts the building. The former Morris Garage premises was redeveloped in 1980 keeping the attractive original frontage and it is now used as student accommodation by New College, Oxford.
Still not enough room!
We get a picture of a company that was doing well taking on a ‘most substantially built” new building that his landlords had put up. But it seems that in this period even this was not sufficient for the growing company. By 1913 William Morris had also bought new showrooms at 36 and 37 Queen Street and the very next year he had leased another large garage in the hotel yard of the Clarendon Hotel in Cornmarket Street.
If we use the Map Explorer™ to view the Lloyd George Domesday Survey we can discover this property record. The linked Clarendon Hotel field book has another helpful sketch by the surveyor annotated underneath the rough plan with the telling words ‘A&B only Hotel and the Stables Remainder let off now to Morris Garage’.
Bankrupt college becomes his next site
To the south east of Oxford there had once been a plot of land occupied by The Oxford Military College. Originally the military college had taken on the premises on the main road of Temple Cowley (Hollow Way) that had once been an old manor house which had then become Cowley College. This educational establishment later became known as Hurst’s Grammar School and in 1852 the school had been extended with an L-shaped school-room at the junction with the Oxford Road and a chapel was added in 1870. The buildings were purchased in July 1876 with the purpose of setting up a military college and this duly opened in September of that year with a parade ground as well as a gymnasium. But by 1891 it was in trouble, as a search on TheGenealogist’s Insolvents & Bankrupts records shows. When the Military College went bankrupt the land fell into disuse.
With the need to mass produce the Morris Bullnose, the company was looking for a suitable place nearby for their factory. Morris Motors obtained the college’s 88 acres in 1912 and began the association of Morris cars with the Cowley area of Oxford where they would build cars for decades, expanding to three nearby manufacturing plants. While all but one of the factories have gone, BMW’s Mini Plant Oxford still occupies one of the plants.
Morris’s company began to cover the old parade ground in 1913 erecting a 100,000 sq ft building which provided the space for expansion that Morris needed. In the Lloyd George Domesday Survey the field book refers (in pencil) to the fact that disused Military College and buildings were now occupied by The Morris Motor Works.
Using the Map Explorer™ on TheGenealogist we can see a modern map underlay that shows the redevelopment since. The original factory has long gone with a new crescent taking its place and the OxBox (Oxford Biomedical) occupying the land on the other side of the road.
The unique IR58 land tax records from the Edwardian Era, that make up the Lloyd George Domesday Survey on TheGenealogist, have enabled us to witness the rapid expansion of William Morris’s business from cycle repairer to mass market motor car manufacturer in a matter of a few short years. As success came his way he was made a baronet of Nuffield in the County of Oxford in 1929 then raised to the peerage as Baron Nuffield in 1934. In 1938 he was honoured again when he became the 1st Viscount Nuffield, of Nuffield in the County of Oxford. In each case he took Nuffield as part of his title and we are able to see this link to this village if we use another of the major records on TheGenealogist that are linked to its powerful mapping tools. This is the 1939 Register, taken at the beginning of WW2, and it shows clearly that Lord and Lady Nuffield were living at Nuffield Place in the Oxfordshire countryside, 18 miles or so southeast of the city where he had begun his business empire.Click here to find out more about the Lloyd George Domesday Survey Records.